Tag Archives: food

Video: “I Travel All the Time,” and the Lack-of-Control Loophole for Habits.

In my latest (bestselling) book, Better Than Before, I identify the twenty-one strategies of habit-formation, and one is the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the ten categories of loopholes. I love studying loopholes, because they’re so funny. And ingenious! We’re such great advocates for ourselves — in any situation, we can always think of some loophole to invoke.

What is a “loophole?”

When we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, for justifications that will excuse us from keeping this particular habit in this particular situation. However, if we catch ourselves in the act of loophole-seeking, we can perhaps reject them.

In Better Than Before, I describe all ten categories of loopholes; in this video series. I’ll describe them, one by one.

Seventh of ten loopholes: Lack of Control loophole.

This is a very popular loophole. We argue that we don’t have control over the situation, and circumstances have forced us to break a habit. However, usually we have more control than we admit.


Lack of Control Loophole Examples

The dog ate my homework.

Alcoholics can quit drinking, and smokers can quit smoking, but I can’t quit eating. (I can’t quit eating, but I can quit eating sugar, or grains, or processed food.)

I’m too stressed to deal with this now.

I travel all the time.

The subway always makes me late.

This snack has been specially engineered by the food industry to be irresistible.

My favorite trainer quit.

My kids take up all my time.

The church’s annual Fathers’ Day Breakfast has always been all-you-can-eat.

We opened a bottle of wine, so we have to finish it.

Do you ever find yourself invoking the Lack of Control loophole? It’s super-sneaky, in my experience. Very easy to invoke without even realizing it.

Did you notice that in the video, my example of the “irresistible food” is Froot Loops? Get the joke?

Podcast: Make Your Bed, Resist the Evil Donut-Bringer, and Take a Hike.

Third episode! I’m having so much fun doing the new weekly podcast, “Happier with Gretchen Rubin with my sister the sage, Elizabeth Craft.

It has been especially thrilling that so many people have listened already — at one point, we were #6 on iTunes! Yowza.

Here’s what we discuss in this episode:

Try This at Home: One of the easiest, most popular habits that will boost your happiness–and it’s not what you might expect. Make your bed. I have to say, this is something that people mention to me all the time.

Happiness Stumbling Block: Free food — especially at work. In this discussion, Elizabeth mentions the Abstainer vs. Moderator distinction, which we talked about in an earlier podcast — you can listen to that conversation, here.

Listener Question: Do you think that thinking about happiness makes you happier?

Demerit: I snarled at a security guard who asked to look in my bag. Sheesh. I feel terrible every time I think about it.

FrymanCanyonGold Star: Elizabeth gives a shout-out to L.A.’s Fryman Canyon. And here she is, about to set off — she’s got her headphones so she can listen to podcasts while she hikes. (That’s a good example of the Strategy of Pairing, by the way.)

If you listen, let us know — does making your bed make you happier, or not? Do you resent free food at work, or do you love it?

To listen to this episode, just zip to the bottom of this post and hit the red “play” button.

Or if you’re reading this post by email, click here to view online, to listen to the podcast from this post.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin“? We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).

Each week, we give  a “Try This at Home” suggestion, for some easy habit you can try, as part of your ordinary routine, to boost your happiness—something like setting an alarm to signal your bedtime, or using the one-minute rule, to help yourself stay on top of small nagging tasks.

We also suggest questions to help you “Know Yourself Better”—like “Whom do you envy?” and “Are you a Marathoner or a Sprinter in your work style?”—and explore “Happiness Stumbling Blocks,” those small, seemingly insignificant parts of daily life that drag us down—everything from the problem of the Evil Donut-Bringer to the fact that working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

We “Grill the Guest,” consider “Listener Questions,” and finally, we get even more personal, and each of us either gives ourselves a “Demerit” for a mistake we made that week, that affected our happiness, or awards a “Gold Star” to someone or something that deserves recognition.

We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE: If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really! Instructions here.

Or for an amusing short how-to video made by Ira Glass of This American Life, click here.

If you want to listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Tell us what you think! Drop us a line at @gretchenrubin, @elizabethcraft, Facebook, podcast@gretchenrubin.com, or call 774-277-9336. Or just add your comment to this post.

Again, be sure to subscribe and listen and subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode. And if you enjoyed it, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

Happy listening! Or I should say, HAPPIER listening!

“Discardia,” or How One Moderator Manages to Indulge Moderately.

Over the weekend, I read Delia Ephron’s very amusing and thought-provoking book of essays, Sister Mother Husband Dog: (Etc.).

In her essay “Bakeries,” she describes visiting her favorite bakeries and eating her favorite pastries — granola cookies, pizza bread, pain au chocolat, chocolate chip cookies with walnuts, pistachio donuts — all around New York City.

As I was reading, I was thinking, “Zoikes, how can she be eating all these pastries all the time, without bad health effects?”

Then Ephron explains:

I am lucky to live in carb paradise and I am lucky to be afflicted with a syndrome (disorder?) that my husband calls Discardia — the tendency to throw things away after a few bites unless I fall in love or am really hungry. Thank God for Discardia, or I would be someone who had to be removed from my house with a crane.

When I read this, I thought, “She’s a classic Moderator!”

I’ve concluded that when dealing with temptation, people are either “Moderators” or “Abstainers.” (Take this quiz to find out what you are.)

Moderators do better when they indulge in moderation, and they get panicky if they’re told they can “never” have or do something. They find that a little indulgence satisfies them, and they often lose interest after a few bites. Thus — Discardia!

Abstainers, by contrast, find it tough to start something once they’ve started, but they aren’t troubled by things that are off-limits. They do better when they don’t have that first bite. I’m 100% Abstainer, and life became so much easier for me when I realized that. As my sister the sage, also an Abstainer, explained, “French fries are my Kryptonite. I gave them up, and now I’m free from French fries.”

A Moderator friend told me, “I keep a bar of fine chocolate in my desk, and every day I have one square.” I said, “I could never do that, that chocolate bar would haunt me until it was gone.” (I’ve since learned that many, many Moderators keep a bar of chocolate squirreled away somewhere.)

There’s no right way or wrong way, only what works for a particular individual. While giving up something (like pastries) might sound hard, for me, it’s far easier than it would be to eat just three bites of a pistachio donut.

Delia Ephron’s “Discardia” is a great example of Moderator behavior — and a great example of how one person’s behavior may or may not suit someone else.

In my book Better Than Before, about how we can change our habits, I have a chapter on the Strategy of Abstaining. (To pre-order, click here–buy early and often.) Abstaining works very well for some people, and not at all for others. Abstaining wouldn’t work for Delia Ephron; Discardia wouldn’t work for me.

Because moderation is so often held up as an ideal, and because it sounds so pleasant and less rigid, many people assume they’re Moderators. From what I’ve observed, many people are actually Abstainers. Could you eat three bites of a chocolate cookie with walnuts? I couldn’t. But I can walk right past that bakery. If you’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to act like a Moderator, give the Abstainer approach a chance. I know it sounds harder, but really, for Abstainers, it’s easier.

Moderators, do you have a habit like Discardia? Abstainers, does this sound like something you would do?

In addition to the Abstainer/Moderator issue, some people will be very uneasy at the thought of deliberate food waste.

Important: Do Not Overfeed.

Last weekend, we had a lot of excitement. My nine-year-old daughter got a betta fish, which she named Esther.

When we were talking to the clerk about how to care for the fish, she told us, “Be sure not to overfeed your fish. Just two pellets.”

When we read the little instruction book that came with the bowl, it said, “Do not overfeed your fish.”

On the bottle of fish food, it said, “DO NOT OVERFEED.”

So it seems clear to me that people have a real tendency to overfeed their fish.

Which got me thinking — why is it so fun to feed animals, birds, people? Even when it’s not such a good idea.

People feed pigeons, bears, and zoo animals, even though it’s not good for the animals or the environment. I know the feeling. Growing up in Kansas City, my sister and I loved to feed the ducks in Loose Park.

There’s just something deeply satisfying about it.

I wonder if that’s why so many people seem to have the drive to urge other people to eat, too.

In writing Better Than Before, my book about habit change (which you can order here: buy early, buy often!), the issue of eating habits came up over and over.

In talking about their attempts to have healthier eating habits, people often told me that an important person in their life made this aim more difficult.

“My grandmother gets insulted if I don’t take seconds or thirds.”

“My friend said, ‘But I baked it especially for you!’ even though she knew I was trying to give up sweets.”

“I told my wife that I can’t have chips in the house, but she says we have to have those foods, for the kids.”

“Everyone at the table was ordering dessert, and they wouldn’t let it go until I ordered some, too.”

I think there’s a lot of things that might be going on in these situations. People judge what they eat according to what others eat, so they want others to eat more — so they can eat more, guilt free! People feel uneasy when others change an important habit. People don’t want to feel inconvenienced by someone else’s habit change.

But partly, too, I think it’s just satisfying to feed someone or something.

And this aspect of human nature is worth taking into consideration when we’re changing our habits, and when we’re thinking about how other people are affecting our habits.

The Strategy of Other People is a key strategy for habit change.

What do you think? Do you find it satisfying to feed someone or something? Even when you know it may not be a good idea?

10 Pieces of Unsolicited Advice, From Me, About Fostering Healthier Eating Habits at Work

Every Wednesday is List Day, or Quiz Day, or Tip Day.

This Wednesday: My 10 pieces of unsolicited advice for how to foster healthier eating habits in the workplace

In law school, we took “issue-spotter” exams, which were actually kind of fun (as law-school exams go). An issue-spotter exam presents a long tale of legal woes, and students must spot every issue that arises—the law-school version of a child’s “find the hidden pictures” puzzle.

A while back, I was speaking at a big company, and as I was shown around the corporate campus, I did a mental issue-spotter.

What steps would make it easier for employees to eat more healthfully without even thinking about it? I amused myself by writing an imaginary ten-point memo.

1. At the reception desk, put all the candy in an opaque container with a lid, with a small sign that says “Candy.”

2. Don’t provide “health bars” or “energy bars” that are really candy bars in disguise. (Just because the label says it’s “healthy” doesn’t mean it is healthy.)

3. Put doors on the office kitchens. The slightest big of inconvenience shapes our habits; plus, if we don’t see food cues, we’re less likely to eat.

4. Set up a partition to divide each kitchen in two. Dedicate the section closer to the door to healthy selections; put less-healthy food in the back section, further from the door, so people would have to make a special effort to get there. Ideally, they’d have to pass another partition or cross an actual red line painted on the floor—and they wouldn’t be able to see those tempting foods unless they were in that area.

5. On the posters that promote healthy foods, stop conflating “fruits” and “vegetables.”

6. Don’t put candies and nuts in bins that pour out their contents in a stream. Instead, provide containers that dispense one small serving at a time. Or better, serve those items in small, pre-packaged bags. That helps people monitor how much they’re eating.

7. Hang mirrors near food stations.

8. Offer fewer varieties of unhealthy foods.

9. Provide a tracking system to allow people to note their daily snack intake (voluntary).

10. Don’t provide trays in the cafeteria. Many colleges have eliminated cafeteria trays; when students can’t easily load up on food and must make multiple trips, they take less. One study found that going trayless cut food waste by as much as 25-30 %, and I bet people eat less, too.

If you could offer some unsolicited advice about your workplace — about how to make it healther — what would you say?

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